10 things only nurses understand

flickr | Tatsuo Yamashita
flickr | Tatsuo Yamashita

How do you KNOW you’re a nurse? Well, there are some things only nurses can understand…and these are 10 of them!

10 things only nurses understand

10. That feeling of getting a patient totally cleaned up and neat in the bed, only to have a flood of liquid stool overcome the chuck pads.

9. How useful Vick’s VapoRub can be. Put it in a mask to kill bad smells! Rub it on sore feet for pain relief! Use it as a sandwich spread when you’re really desperate!

8. What a rarity it is to give report to the same person on the same patients three days in a row.

7. How often nurses make the decisions that doctors don’t think about or are too afraid to make.

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Agatha Lellis

Agatha Lellis is a nurse whose coffee is brought to her every morning by a chipmunk. Bluebirds help her to dress, and small woodland creatures sing her to sleep each night. She writes a monthly advice column, "Ask Aunt Agatha," here on Scrubs; you can send her questions to be answered at askauntieaggie@gmail.com.

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92 Responses to 10 things only nurses understand

  1. dakitn1

    The biggest compliment I get is “when do you work again?, Why so many days off?, What am I gonna do while you are gone?”

  2. mikekoser

    Nurses never know to say “Wow, its been quiet this shift”, because if you do, holy heck is sure to break out!

    • mikekoser

      I meant ALWAYS know to never say this!! Sorry- long shift!! lol

    • NurseJess

      I had a student say that once an hour away from knock off within 10 minutes I had one patient on the floor and another in SVT

      • akwindsong

        Ah… when the charge nurse says that and says “Oh, that’s just an old wives tale!” and walks off the unit…. and one man projectile vomits across his entire room, someone else gets up and voids on the floor and is screaming for help, and all lights are popping on all up and down two hallways…. and you are ALONE…..

    • babytoes

      Nobody is allowed to use the “Q” word. Peaceful, calm, but NEVER the “Q” word. (had someone come into the nursery where I was working (alone) and say it. Got 6 babies in the next 20 minutes)

    • debora328

      We never said calm, quiet or slow!!!

  3. cathysdan

    you know your a nurse when you get with people and talk shop and it usually turns into potty functions and no one get grossed out!

  4. catjmoses

    Never remake the bed or turn the light off of a room readied for a patient that is now not coming.

  5. susiqblue

    sorry to disagree, but vicks only clears my sinuses so I can smell the odor even better/

    • aprilsoft25

      You have to use two and place a small amount of Vicks between the two

      • j3marti5

        we don’t carry Vick’s but I’ve learned real quick, toothpaste is just as good.

    • 1Sheprd4God

      The trick is to line the inside of your nostrils with Vicks. You’ll be able to see the rings of Saturn with your naked eye but honey, you won’t be able to smell a dang thing =)

      • CarolinaNurse

        Laughing @ “rings of Saturn” – too funny!

        • dibbydobb

          ROFL!!! Sometimes it seems like a smell like that shoots us up to Saturn!!!

  6. Nurseroxrn

    Yeah I normally put toothpaste in my masks lol

  7. jakjjd

    That if something is going to go wrong, from an infiltrated I.V. to a code blue, it will happen at 0650 or 1850….just before next shift.

    • j3marti5

      I would love to do a study of when patients are requesting things the most, usually its between the times you say, or at shift change.

      • erocknurse

        I would honestly like to do a poll of patients and ask why they present at certain times in the ER. Usually he “triage bus” as I call it arrives at eleven a.m. Every day without fail. Also five pm is the other magic hour. I would honestly like to ask my patients that. And then they get mad when I lets rally have ten patients to triage at one time which happened today. And then they wonder why they have a long wait.

    • at cw 15

      This is so true about “things will happen” just before or after report handoff.

    • NYNCRN

      I detest with all my being the hours between 0400 and 0630…anything that is going to happen happens in that time frame always!!!! ACK! lol

  8. Gerinurse64

    I work three 12 hr shifts & sometimes have to work over. There is a HUGE difference in 12 & 16 hr shifts! I used to work double shifts all the time…now I’m too old & too tired. I really love my days off in a row, but I’m considering going back to 8 hr shifts. Any thoughts on this?

    • Pearl

      12 hour shifts are nurse killers for anyone over the age of 30. They were invented so the hospitals can eliminate an entire shift of nurses and company benefits. Wiped me out of the profession.

      • j3marti5

        break up your three 12’s, just know working 8’s means more days of working in a row. Usually we work 2 on and a single 12. hope this helps.

      • Vicky Dunsmore Paschke

        Pearl, I graduated from nursing school when I was 41. I started out working 8 hr shifts and hated them. I switched to 12 and 16 hour shifts and worked them for 10 years. When I changed jobs and started working in home hospice 12 hr shifts weren’t available, so I worked 10 hr shifts until they changed my position back to 8 hrs. An opening came up for a 12 hr position again, and I am now working 2-12’s and 2-8’s on afternoons and midnights. I will be 54 next week. Most of the people that I worked with at the hospital were in their 40’s and 50’s working 12 hrs.

        I guess the moral of the story is, speak for yourself. When I was in the hospital I worked 2-12’s back to back, took 3 days off, and worked 2 more 12’s, since we worked every other weekend. I was always able to space out my days to get a few days off in between my work days. 3 shifts together is a killer for anyone these days due to staffing and acuity.

        I was really lucky to find the position that I have. It works with my family and I love what I’m doing. I have even picked up some contingent time at another job for some extra $$. I guess you are as young as you feel.

        • littlebudha

          I am in my fifties and worked 13hr shifts on a busy icu often working 3-4 days in a row with only 1 day off before working a night shift. It was nothing to work 3 nights and be given 2 day shifts immediately after finishing the nights.1 now work 8 hr shifts which are less Tiring but do find it difficult to fit everything into 2 days off.

        • ERdee

          I agree with Vicky Paschke. I am an ER nurse and graduated when I was 46 years old. My first job came after I got divorced and we shared custody of our daughters. I worked six 12 hour shifts in a row so that I was off for 8 in a row to be there for my girls on my days off. When they were older I was supporting a mortgage and picked up a lot of extra shifts on my days off. Worse time was when I voluntarily worked NINE 12s in a row. When I moved to Washington the ER only had 8 hour shifts which made me feel like I was always working. We finally got the 12s most of us wanted and my schedule is three on two off three on and then SIX in s row off. I love it and I am 60 years old now and still working the ER

    • Miss my job

      I worked double shifts all the time , it really wears you out and when you get two days off in a roll it feels like a vacation , until you notice you got so far behind on house work ! You probably would feel better to go to 8 hr shifts , you need to take care of your self to be able to do the best possible for you patients !! Good luck with that !! I’ve been off work now three years I miss it every day would give anything to get to go back and be like it was ! I love my people !

  9. j3marti5

    Toothpaste in between 2 masks can be our lifesaver!

  10. Ivis30

    How we keep extra supplies until the end of the shift to ward off evil spirits instead of throwing them out earlier.

  11. rnpack

    How families expect you to know the exact day, hour, minute their loved ones will leave this world.
    How families expect you to know who “Mom” is.
    How families expect you to know the exact time their doctor will appear.

  12. Schokc

    Stay on top of things because no matter – every time near end of shift “something” happens.

  13. firemanflame

    Used lots of Vicks thru 34 years of nursing, in the mask, on the feet when sore but mostly on the patients feet to control coughing.

  14. younggani

    working in a rehab… if my unit is too quiet there is something is wrong……..

  15. moogambo

    Number 2 is offensive. Number 1 implies that it is a rarity for “old people” to say Thanks, which is just not true. (So you’re in this for the Thanks?)

    • meplusu

      Uhhhh for #1 they don’t mean an old patient as in old age…it just means a FORMER patient…duhhhh

  16. CCHPnurse


    “Number 2 is offensive.”
    Spoken like someone that hasn’t actually WORKED in a teaching hospital. Or more likely one of the Zombies described.
    “Number 1 implies that it is a rarity for “old people” to say Thanks, which is just not true. (So you’re in this for the Thanks?)”
    I do believe the author intended that “old” be defined as former not geriatric. And no, I don’t know a single nurse that is “…in this for the Thanks”. We are highly trained professionals and do it for a pay check, just like you. The days of the selfless nurse are over.

    • Kimberly Barr

      Unfortunately your right. It’s the I am entitled generation, I don’t want to work nights, weekends or holidays, boo hoo poor me. I am a selfless nurse that goes to work because I truly want the best for my patients. I have never done it for the thanks but when they come they are better than any perk my employer provides which is very little.

    • babytoes

      I believe it was not meant to be “old patients” but “former patients.”

    • raelyns123

      If you are only there for a paycheck for the elderly residents then you need to change your career. I am a lpn I work 4 13hrs shifts nights and I do work 16s and i do get pulled from my cart to be a cna and I am not there for a paycheck I am there for the residents. If I was there for a paycheck then I would be somewhere else making more than $12.41 an hour and differential Pay. Who else will take care if them? Who else will make sure they are clean and fed. ?? Their families can’t take care of them or they would not be there. I love each and every one of my veterans residents. Don’t get me wrong sometimes they do drive me bonkers but that is the disease that is doing and for them saying thanks then you have not really worked in long term facility! I see it when they give you a hug or a kiss. Or say I love you. In there smile or in there eyes. I just h ad one tell me that they wanted a picture of me so when I’m off he could still see me. That tells me I do make a difference in these residents life. So I am not just there for a paycgeck. And if that’s why you are working try to remember why you became a nurse in the first place! This is my opinion and no one else so I don’t care if you don’t like it or not.

    • at cw 15

      Respectfully disagree. The paycheck is the smaller part of the reason I chose to be a nurse. I love to help sick people recover. I don’t have to hear a “thank you”. And I have trained/mentored enough new nurses/students that I can spot a “just here for the money/this is a stepping stone job” in just a few minutes’ time. There are exceptions of course, but I worry about the attitude and work ethic of many young nurses this day and age.

  17. Molly4

    In all seriousness, only nurses understand quality of life!

  18. 1crazybabae

    You high five other nurses when they tell you their patient finally pooped!

  19. aceranchrn

    What a ” code brown” or ” Vitamin A” is. Lol

  20. dianaon

    I knew I was really a nurse when I could drink from a cup that said “monistat” w/o a blink

    I knew I was really a nurse when I learned about slow codes ….especially when people were in their right minds pulling out trachs and begging family to let them go

    I knew…….when I started a silent prayer at codes “come back all the way or get out now while the gettings good, all will be well ..” repeat repeat….

    I knew….when I could present a case more completely and succinctly than an attending And offer a course of Tx orders they could not refute.

    I knew…..when I became an NP

  21. Vickie Uzendoski Sewell

    I think nurses do an incredible job, but a LOT of nurses I’ve worked with got a LOT of their information from the can doing the actual care giving as where the nurse done needs, treatments and a LOT of paperwork. So it takes a team not just a Dr to diagnose, a nurse to treat and the can to get patient ready, it takes a team

  22. Miss my job

    You love hearing your patients asking you . What time you get off today ?, will you be back in the morning ? Will you work my hall ? If the other girl don’t show up will you come in ? Who’s gonna come in this evening& if they don’t come will you stay over again ? When you go on break you can come in my room . I sure miss you on your days off ! Such a rewarding job!

  23. done420rn

    When it’s a full moon and you know your scheduled to Work. You know it’s going to be crazy. You can’t understand where these people came from.

  24. j6keyser

    Never realized that a “Full Moon Saturday Night” was actually a real phenomenon until I worked my first one. Now I try to avoid them like the plaque!!

  25. Paula Elder

    Beware the full moon!

  26. Ryan Schultz

    Patient states “it’s really slow” resist urge of hitting them in the back of the head

  27. babytoes

    Giving report to the same person three days in a row? Heck, I’d settle for 2 days! And don’t even get me started on the relief nurse who wants to know every single thing about a patient and writes it down in excruciating detail when you still have two more patients to sign off on.

  28. Norma Torres Gonzalez

    I HATE it when a pedi dental pt is crying and the STUPID mom tells them to “stop crying or the nurse is going to give you a shot!” SERIOUSLY?!?! I cut the mom off and tell her “I am not here to hurt your child. I’m here to help them.” And I’m thinking to myself “If you’d show her to brush her teeth after drinking kool aid and eating candy for dinner, she wouldn’t need a full mouth of silver crowns, would she?!?!” 😉 ….just saying:)

  29. rgreen504

    The feeling you get when someone walks up to you and says”you saved my life”. Amazing…

  30. MrsShippy

    So many of these made me LMAO. I agree that #1 was meant as former pt not chronologically old.

  31. rnangel

    We ourselves get disoriented to days of the week (esp. during holidays) Oh?! I thought it’s a Monday on a toxic Sunday shift

  32. Pegbmxmom

    Only a night nurse can understand what a full moon really means!

    • Vicky Dunsmore Paschke

      A full moon on midnights…there is nothing like it. I worked on a telemetry unit, medsurg floor, in the ER, and now home hospice…you can always tell when there is a full moon!

    • Patsy Kelly

      Working 3rd shift back in the 8 hours days I would ALWAYS check out the moon. If it was full I was prepared!

    • rn63

      I worked as a corrections nurse in the county jail. Try a full moon on a weekend. Holy Hannah!

  33. Amy Lauersdorf

    I take no offense to any of these. I appreciate all of these. Especially number two. Working noc shift, I have issues doing my diabetic foot checks and finding crusty feet.

  34. a10ecpearl

    The dread of July 1st when NEW Interns/Residents start~~~

    • sweetbabynrs1

      i went to all the pain in the ** trouble of creating an account, checking the email, not being able to get logged in, having to get another password, logging out of facebook and back in, having to switch accounts again…. JUST TO MESSAGE YOU!! YOUR COMMENT INFURIATES ME!! people like you are part of the problem!!! you do NOT get to be annoyed or inconvenienced by new medical professionals who are trying to learn their job! YOU are the reason new people quit! or decide to change professions! if you don’t LOVE to teach and help people better their lives, then you need to get out of this profession.

  35. Katherine Howard

    Getting that # 18 in on the first try!

  36. Patsy Kelly

    Be out in public with your Mother, have an ex-patient walk up, grab hug and kiss you. say how much they love you and then walk off. Then, Mother asks “and who is that?” and answer, “I have no idea but if I could see his scar I’d know!”

  37. Tanker

    I will confess I’m not a nurse, I’m a Paramedic. Although one thing over the years from what I’ve seen. Only nurses understand they do the majority of the work, yet the PT will almost always tell the doctor thank you for everything. Not even understanding or acknowledging that the nurse was responsible for the comfort of the PT. Not to mention all the things the nurse does behind the scenes the PT will never see or understand. Thank you nurses for being there when we EMS guys and gals bring the PTs in, whether your in the ER or on the floor, or wherever you maybe. Thanks!!

    • MzGan

      You’re overwhelm when a consulting specialist seeks you out to shake your hand and say thanks for stopping a male from hemorrhaging to death . When all you’ve done is wet a brown paper bag and wrapped it around his private part .

    • dnhoney1

      Thanks so much for the recognition . I am an old school ER nurse. I love and respect all the paramedics that I have worked with over the years. WE are a ” made to work miracles” team. Thank You for your knowledge and dedication.

      • florence424

        Thank you for mentioning the paramedics. A hospital where I was Director of Nurses also managed the county owned ambulance. The paramedics were the hospital’s employees. We used them in the emergency room when they were not out on a run. My experience was one of great pride and appreciation in the work they did. Dedication, knowledge and ability added quality services to our emergency room and our patient satisfaction ratings were always high. Go Paramedics! We appreciate you!

  38. Anne Horst

    Feelings that go with having to intervene when a family member is being verbally abusive to his/her hospitalized spouse.

  39. MzGan

    You feel you’ve accomplised a great task when your pt. tells you they were afraid to come into the hospital for the first time . And at the end of a 13 hr shift he request from the unit manager to have you to be his nurse through out his stay .

  40. Carolyn Erickson Scalise

    #10 put my back out on 7/5/14 (the patient was also very large and very delirious/combative). You all know what I’m talking about….Still on workers comp. Been a nurse for 28 years and my back and neck are trashed. So, you younger nurses, here’s a bit of advice that you may have already heard, but take it from my experience: Core strength and proper lifting means everything!

  41. dnhoney1

    You only know you must be pregnant when a Lower GI bleed and the smell of bacon suddenly make you nauseous. You know you are made to work in a teaching hospital when you refer to the AM or PM rounds as an invasion of a gagle of Docterlings.

  42. Beenurse

    When you make your final shift round and your pt finds out you are off the next day and says “I’m going to miss you”….

  43. Susan Newlon

    How amazingly strong are the relationships forged between staff and the family of a critically ill or dying patient or resident.

  44. ICUshiftnurse

    The feeling you get when you extubate a patient after only 4 hours and nothing has gone wrong…

  45. aga_marie

    Aunt Aggie it is so great to find someone with the same name as me. Just wanted to say thanks for all the tips. I just barely graduated and have not taken the NCLEX yet. I am looking forward to working as a nurse but at the same time I’m terrified of my career beginnings.

  46. debora328

    When you gave report, start leaving and don’t look back! A code was lurking and you could not get away!

  47. MelVi

    You know you’re a nurse when you’re introduced to someone new and immediately say “wow, you have great veins””

  48. Dani Brandt

    Getting excited when your pt has really nice veins. And getting excited with your pt when they get to have their staples/sutures removed.

    After suctioning your patients trach, your able to eat lunch, that is if your able to go to lunch.

    And we can’t forget to mention, the feelings of happiness when you finally are able to use the bathroom. :-)

  49. Mary Walker

    1) Sundowners can equal demonic possession!
    2) There are MANY MANY people who actually need to urinate every 45 minutes at night!
    3) Obession with having daily bowel movements should be a DSM diagnosis used more frequently.
    4) No, the needle in your arm won’t poke you if you bend it, because there isn’t
    a needle there anymore!
    5) Yes, I understand you haven’t eaten, and I’ll be happy to bring you a lunch box. All I ask is that you’d let me get your oxygen above 80% first, so that you don’t completely stop breathing mid-sandwich. You can’t eat if you’re unconscious.
    6) Bringing your newborn into the room of a person on isolation precautions probably isn’t the best idea.
    7) Sure, I can explain to the sixth family member why you’re in the hospital. After all, I have nothing better to do than repeat myself a dozen times to multiple people.
    8) Oh, the pulmonologist said you can go home today?! Great! As soon as your primary care physician, cardiologist, nephrologist, and neurologist all agree, and then write discharge orders and prescriptions, you’ll be good to go!!

  50. gamechangernurse

    no, I cant “name your rash”

    sure, I’d be happy to order you an extra coffee, eggs with cheese, bacon, and wheat or rye toast..
    or similarly:
    “are you eating your oatmeal, you haven’t removed the lid”. Uhhmm, yeah, I’ll just take it. LOLOLOL

    “oh the doctor said you can go home now”… .

    family stares at the monitor, ekg 2 2, aline, nibp, pa cath, spo2, co/ci. — “can you explain to me what this means”…. uhmmm it monitors the functions of the heart and gives a general glance at your moms condition. “well, I saw on Greys…” .

    • florence424

      Yes, I love all the “TV trained” nurses…..and physicians. Or they have been on WebMD to get their education. Don’t get me wrong, I think a well informed public is wonderful, enables them to better participate I care. A knowledgeable and experienced nurse knows how to handle the family “know-it-all” but I have seen young nurses become intimidated and even angry. A reminder to young nurses, seek out help from older nurses in handling difficult patients or family. You don’t deserve mistreatment.

  51. florence424

    One of my biggest rewards as a nurse is to have someone walk up to me in a store and tell me they remember me for taking care of their loved one, delivering their baby, holding their hand as their loved one was dying, or even as simple as “you started my IV when not one else could.” I was a practicing nurse for over 26 years in a small rural hospital, 60 bed. You had to know every kind of nursing, because you worked all over the hospital, from medical surgical/ICU to Labor and Delivery, Nursery, ER, Surgery and Recovery Room. The other years of my career were spent in leadership Nursing. My life intertwined with so many people, it is hard to imagine any of my past life where nursing was not a significant part. From helping to bring life into the world, to helping ease a patient out of this world, I would not trade any of the experience. I would have to say that with the exception of teaching, their are few professions with greater rewards than that of a nurse. That experience of having a former patient come up to you in public and begin to tell you how you touched their life is absolutely my favorite. Not long ago, I saw the lady who’s baby I delivered while she was still in the car of the emergency room parking lot in 1977. Wow! What a book I could right! Great love sent to all the nurses out there. Remember, there is nothing so wonderful as the “laying on of hands.” Machines and gadgets are great, but never forget to touch your patient, listen to their heart, lungs, bowels, hold their hands, touch their feet when check for pulses. Never under-estimate the effectiveness of a warm or cool wash cloth, a warm blanket. Remember the nursing process, and follow it religiously. And as my nursing instructor back in 1973 told me, “No one cares what you know, until they know you care.”

  52. AndreaDona

    You know you are a nurse, when you are at a party with your friends and other people, and everyone is talking about their jobs and what they do. When you start talking about your job and what you do, you can hear a pin drop when you stop in mid sentence about that magnificent dressing change on the open cavity in room 4. Everyone is looking at you like you just grew a horn out of your forehead…

  53. Tealynn

    You know your a nurse when you learn to realize there is no “P” in Nursing!